What would change everything?

sun18jan2009—03w018d4%— 18h48m00s—0utc

Edge‘s 2009 Question is out!: What would change everything?. The list of answers by some of the most interesting individuals in the third culture individuals out there is as inspiring and thought provoking (and atrociously designed, interface-wise) as ever. Kevin Kelly’s answer my favorite so far:

It is hard to imagine anything that would “change everything” as much as a cheap, powerful, ubiquitous artificial intelligence — the kind of synthetic mind that learns and improves itself. A very small amount of real intelligence embedded into an existing process would boost its effectiveness to another level. We could apply mindfulness wherever we now apply electricity. The ensuing change would be hundreds of times more disruptive to our lives than even the transforming power of electrification. We’d use artificial intelligence the same way we’ve exploited previous powers — by wasting it on seemingly silly things. Of course we’d plan to apply AI to tough research problems like curing cancer, or solving intractable math problems, but the real disruption will come from inserting wily mindfulness into vending machines, our shoes, books, tax returns, automobiles, email, and pulse meters.

This additional intelligence need not be super-human, or even human-like at all. In fact, the greatest benefit of an artificial intelligence would come from a mind that thought differently than humans, since we already have plenty of those around. The game-changer is neither how smart this AI is, nor its variety, but how ubiquitous it is. Alan Kay quips in that humans perspective is worth 80 IQ points. For an artificial intelligence, ubiquity is worth 80 IQ points. A distributed AI, embedded everywhere that electricity goes, becomes ai — a low-level background intelligence that permeates the technium, and trough this saturation morphs it.

Great stuff — it’s people like Kelly that make me miss California ;)

Jeff Bezos had remarkably similar, equally inspiring ideas at a recent TED talk, comparing the web to electricity but Kelly pushes it further, to “intelligence as electricity”

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